Of course it would happen that the Carolina Hurricanes would have a Falls Lake-sized bucket of cold water thrown on their longest winning streak in three years.
What has been speculated for the past couple of weeks, mostly by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, seems to be coming into closer focus this week. The Hurricanes and free agent-to-be Micheal Ferland are “far, far apart“ on a new contract for the pending unrestricted free agent winger, as relayed in this week’s 31 Thoughts column. This, after we heard basically the same thing about the negotiations last summer with Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin.
And then, the real alarm bells started ringing: the Hurricanes trading Ferland is apparently “a matter of when, not if.”
There are so many levels to this that we could go on all day dissecting it, so let’s just focus on a couple. First, the Hurricanes paid dearly to acquire Ferland and Dougie Hamilton in June. Hamilton is already reportedly on the trading block again, although this seems to be more a case of a numbers crunch rather than an inability to pay. There is no such numbers crunch with Ferland. It would be a catastrophically bad look for GM Don Waddell to trade away the two pieces that he got in exchange for one of the league’s top scorers, Elias Lindholm, less than a year later.
The Hurricanes, particularly Rod Brind’Amour, have been effusive in their praise of Ferland this season. He has gone far above and beyond what they thought they were getting. Of course, he was a year away from unrestricted free agency when he was acquired, so his hot streak is hitting at a particularly opportune time for him. But it isn’t like the Hurricanes didn’t know this when they acquired him, and he fills a hole on their roster that has been empty since at least the peak years of Tuomo Ruutu, and perhaps even back before that, to vintage Erik Cole in the mid-2000s.
If the Hurricanes are going to trade Ferland because they can’t sign him, what does that say about their ability to identify and appropriately compensate players who fill a specific role? They did a great job identifying Ferland. In fact, they may have done a better job than even they realized at the time. But those players come at a cost, and if the Hurricanes aren't willing to pay market value, then they are going to be consigned to spinning their wheels forever.
To be fair, we don’t really know what numbers are being bandied about. It’s entirely possible that Ferland’s agent, sensing a big payday, is trying to wring out as much as he can from the Hurricanes, which is completely understandable in light of what agents are paid to do.
We have heard nothing from the Hurricanes’ front office on Ferland’s contract negotiations. In fact, we’ve heard very little from them on the pending Sebastian Aho contract extension, which is of infinitely more importance than Ferland’s. But at least Waddell and Tom Dundon are on the record saying that an Aho extension is being worked on, albeit slowly (and, in fairness to Aho, the longer the negotiation lasts the more money he makes, so it’s no surprise it’s taking a while).
Aho is the priority, but Ferland is important too. How important does the front office feel he is? We don’t know.
Ferland has a more specifically defined and necessary role than Lindholm ever had in his five seasons with the Hurricanes. This isn’t an issue of paying him whatever he’s asking for. This is recognizing that the Hurricanes have an asset, one that has been quite productive, and ensuring that they strike a fair deal without simply moving him along if they can.
What the Hurricanes can’t do is assign a value to Ferland and, when he or his representation do not agree with that valuation, immediately put him on the trade block. If there isn’t a deal to be made, then so be it. But the Hurricanes can’t afford to give the impression that their first move when negotiations break down is to trade a player. Fair or not, that’s the opinion that many in the hockey world will form if they see it happen to three players from the same team in the span of seven months (four, if you count Jeff Skinner, although there’s much more to that saga than simply a contract number).
The Hurricanes shouldn’t overthink this. Ferland fills a role of which the Hurricanes have been in desperate need for many, many years. That has inherent value. They’re risking not being able to re-fill that role in free agency or through prospects coming up through the system.
Perhaps a deal isn’t meant to be made, but the Hurricanes need to explore every avenue before coming to that conclusion. They can’t afford to give Ferland a blank check, but they similarly can’t afford to throw up their arms two months before the trade deadline and declare it a lost cause. This isn’t “pay the man,” this is “recognize what you have.”
The Hurricanes aren’t making the playoffs this season without the contributions that Ferland has provided since his arrival. Hopefully, this is a smokescreen and Waddell will pull a rabbit out of his hat at the eleventh hour. If not, gear up for another lap around the merry-go-round.